The future of the Hamilton Gardens' Rhododendron Lawn, which has hosted events such as Gourmet in the Gardens and the Sunset Symphony Orchestra, is in doubt with plans to turn it into a car park.

The plan, part of the Hamilton Gardens master plan, has been met with public outcry due to a lack of consultation with the public.

This week the council backed off making a decision on the car park option and pushed back the item to the last council meeting of the council term on September 26, leaving staff only nine days to seek input from the public.

At the meeting, Hamilton City councillor Mark Bunting said he does not want his possible last act of council to be destroying the Rhododendron Lawn.

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"This lawn is in the centre of the garden and that says a lot, people are telling me do we put people in the heart of the gardens or do we put cars in the heart of the gardens," Bunting said.

"Do we keep Hamilton's iconic playspace?"

"There are a lot of people asking a lot of questions and I would like them to be able to have their questions answered."

"I'm not going to let my legacy in my last council meeting to support paving my favourite piece of Hamilton."

A Save the Rhododendron Lawn Facebook page, along with a petition, has been started to help bring awareness to the proposed plans.

Hamilton resident Judy McDonald said on the page that "it is the only large, flat space in the centre of the Gardens complex that can accommodate events, like the Sunset Symphony and other ArtsFestival acts, and the regular Gourmet in the Gardens evenings.

It provides open space for families for picnics and general gatherings," Ms McDonald said.

"More parking will not add to the atmosphere, and it isn't necessary. We need to encourage safe access from Hamilton East, using the new pedestrian underpass at Sillary St, and provide regular bus services for those who need more direct access."

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Another resident, Anna Sinclair, said "it's a great spot that complements the rest of the gardens. turning it into parking would be short sighted and an utter waste."

Speaking to Hamilton News , president of Friends of the Gardens Virginia Graham said they supported the move to turn the lawn into a car park to help the Gardens become a worldwide attraction.

"The change is to improve access and safety we want the gardens to be an international attraction. We've had cars sliding down the hill by the graveyard when parking overflows which is not ideal," Ms Graham said.

"There is a plan to develop an amphitheatre so the open performing space will not be lost."

However, back in the council chambers, councillors were split over the decision, with some saying that the long-term vision of the garden was not being taken into account by residents, and that by consulting again they would be in a never-ending circle.

Councillor Dave Macpherson said he wanted to support further consultation.

"I don't think extra consultation will ever hurt," Mr Macpherson said.

"I feel like Mark, and if this was our last council meeting and we were to push something through without a week's more talking about improving the issue I think that would be a mistake."

Councillor Angela O'Leary said she was supporting further consultation as she believed giving the public more information would help bring them on board.

Councillor Rob Pascoe said the masterplan had been through a robust consultation, and said that this council did not have enough time to act on further consultation.

"How will we use the additional date in the time we have got," Mr Pascoe said. "This is an unwanted burden on staff having to deliver a response back in such a short time frame."
At the time of going to print the council had not announced details of how it is going to consult the public on the proposal.

Tim Coenen is a Wintec journalism student